Exodus 1:1-14 ~ 20100418 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
4/18 Exodus 1:1-14 God the Sovereign Promise Keeper
Exodus is a book that moves from bondage to redemption, into relationship characterized by worship. Throughout God shows himself to be the sovereign promise-keeper. That will serve as an outline of the book:
The first word in the book of Exodus is not translated in most English versions. The first word is 'and'. Right from the beginning, we are told that this is not a stand-alone book, but really chapter two in God's history of redemption. Exodus continues the story that started in Genesis. The first eleven chapters of Genesis give God's sovereign working in the ancient world, and the last 39 chapters focus on God's sovereign working through one man and his family. God chose Abram and made huge promises to him, and he confirmed those promises to his son Isaac and to his son Jacob. God promised that he would make them into a great nation and bless all the nations of the world through them.
The last 13 chapters of Genesis chronicle God's action in the history of Joseph, favorite son of Israel, who was hated by his brothers, stripped of his clothes and sold as a slave into Egypt. He was falsely accused and imprisoned, but in time God raised him up through his integrity, gifts and wisdom to be the second in command of all of Egypt. God used him to rescue the land from a severe famine, which also brought his brothers down to Egypt from Canaan looking for food. Joseph recognized the sovereign hand of God acting even in his suffering to keep his promises to his fathers.
God used Joseph to preserve the lives of the family of the promises, and bring them under the provision and protection of Egypt. In Genesis 46, we have a genealogy of the sons of Jacob or Israel, listing seventy descendants at the time they moved to Egypt. In the original, the first six words of Exodus are identical to the first six words of Genesis 46:8, another reminder that this is the continuation of God's redemption story which began with creation:
What we have in Exodus is an abbreviation and summary of this chapter in Genesis.
(chart: family tree)
Seventy would be quite a family reunion, but it was not even close to the innumerable multitudes that God had promised. Most of us in this room can count to seventy. God had promised:
God made his covenant with Abram and said:
After God provided a substitute for Isaac on the mountain, God said:
To Isaac he said:
To Jacob he said:
So Exodus begins with the descendants of Israel numbering seventy, and Joseph and his brothers died and all that generation to whom God had made promises died. But the promise of God still stands. God had reassured Jacob:
God promised himself to go down with Jacob to Egypt, to make of him a great nation, and himself to bring him up again. Even in the midst of pain and adversity, God is making good on his promises. It says:
This language clearly points to the fulfillment of God's promises to multiply the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to become a great multitude. But it points to more than that. The language points back to the creation mandate that God gave to man at the very beginning:
God restated this to Noah after the destruction of the flood:
This is the language used to describe the exponential growth of the people of Israel in Egypt. Jacob clearly articulated that this growth was the work of God himself.
God commands that we be fruitful, but God is the one that makes his people fruitful. Exodus 1:7 could be more literally translated:
God was fulfilling his promises to his people. He was making them fruitful and strong and filling the land with them.
Enter the new Egyptian dynasty:
Joseph had rescued Egypt from natural disaster by preparing wisely for the promised famine. The Pharaoh honored him and extended generous hospitality to his family. Now, with a new dynasty in place, old ties were broken and he felt no obligation to honor old agreements. That the new king did not know Joseph does not mean ignorance of his national history so much as lack of a special relationship. He chose to act as though the Israelites were a threat rather than an asset. So he launches a public campaign against the foreigners. He spins things a different way and paints Israel as an internal threat to national security. He says they are too many and too mighty. God had made them fruitful and powerful, but God's blessing is often perceived as a threat to an unbelieving society. Up to this point in the narrative, Israel was the name of a family. This Pharaoh uses the term here in a new way. He refers to them as a distinct people or nation within a nation. The new king is afraid of the potential threat this people group could pose to his power and position. So he decides to take action to keep them from multiplying and to reduce the potential threat to his dynasty.
God had commanded his people to be fruitful and multiply. Pharaoh, in seeking to keep them from multiplying, will find himself fighting against Israel's God. He says 'Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply.' His language again brings us back to Genesis, where the people gathered on the plains of Shinar in rebellion against God
The people wanted to make a name for themselves by building a city and a tower in opposition to the name of God. They did not want to be dispersed and fill the earth as God had commanded, rather they gathered themselves together against God. Another detail that ties these two stories together is that they both involved making bricks and building cities. And in both accounts, God directly intervenes.
But God does not instantly make things better. Here's what the Pharaoh does:
At the time of Joseph, the Israelites maintained their identity as shepherds, and were even employed by the Pharaoh as contract herders for his royal flocks in the grazing lands of northeast Egypt. The logic seems to be that if we reduce them to meaningless cogs in the machinery of the empire, they would lose heart and cease to be a threat. If they were afflicted with heavy burdens they would have neither the time nor the strength to procreate. They would likely require long periods away from home for the laborers, which would take them away from wife and family, weakening the moral fabric of their culture. Virtually working two jobs, their agriculture would suffer, and they would become more dependent on Egyptian society for the basic necessities to sustain their existence. The Pharaoh's plan was a brilliant one.
The plan was logical and should have been effective, except that Pharaoh had picked a fight with God. When you find yourself fighting against God, you are on the losing side. Notice that it does not say that they multiplied in spite of the oppression; rather it indicates that increased oppression led to increased fruitfulness. This has been true of the church throughout her history. In times of peace, God's people get lazy and take for granted his gifts. As Tertullian (ca. 160-220 AD) observed so long ago, 'the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church' semen est sanguis Christianorum [Tertullian Apologeticum ch. 50, 13]. Oppression directly resulted in increased fruitfulness. The Egyptian people bought into the propaganda of the Pharaoh, and they became terrified of this internal threat to their great country. But things often get worse before they get better. God's blessing resulted in greater intensity of persecution.
God's blessing is not always sweet to the taste. The Israelites were being blessed by God. He was making them fruitful in spite of the oppression. God's blessing didn't mean freedom from oppression; rather it meant fruitfulness in the midst of affliction with the hope of future redemption. God's blessing can sometimes be painful in the short term. God's blessing is not always what we would choose for ourselves. Notice the words that are used:
All this should make us long for deliverance. For rescue. For release. Not that work or service is bad. The repeated demand of God to this Pharaoh was 'let my people go that they may serve me' (3:12; 4:23; 7:16; 8:1, 20; 9:1, 13; 10:3, 7, 8, 10, 11, 24, 26; 12:31). We long to be transferred from a harsh and cruel slave-master to the service of a kind and generous king.
Paul puts it this way:
We have been purchased:
We are transferred to a new Master:
And that new Master is Jesus: